Last night, the NHL had its Expansion Draft for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, and along with picking one player from each of the 30 other NHL teams, the Golden Knights pulled off 10 trades in the process. Las Vegas already had the sixth overall pick in Friday’s NHL Entry Draft, but they also acquired the 13th and 15th overall picks. But let’s cover who the Golden Knights added while looking at the potential fantasy impact of these players.
James Neal (Nashville)
Jonathan Marchessault (Florida)
David Perron (St. Louis)
Erik Haula (Minnesota)
Reilly Smith (Florida) via trade
These five forwards will be the men up front putting pucks in opposing nets, and will also play a lot of tightly contested defensive games simply due to the fact Las Vegas does not have a legit number one center. James Neal isn’t in his prime anymore, but he does have an 80-point season under his wing and will be relied on every night to be the number one goal scorer. He will again secure top line minutes at even strength and the power play. Marchessault is coming off his best season as a professional with a 30-goal, 51-point campaign in Florida, and he filled in admirably for injured stud forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau during their extensive absences. Las Vegas may be lacking a number one center, but with three first round picks, a stocking of the shelves will be happening tonight. This year’s entry draft may not contain Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine caliber players, but there are about 12-15 Matthew Tkchuck skill leveled players and it’s going to be great to look back ten years from now and see how these young men have panned out. If Vegas really wants a number one center, remember that the Islanders' John Tavares is a UFA at season's end and is just turning 27 this season.
Colin Miller (Boston)
Nate Schmidt (Washington)
Brayden McNabb (Los Angeles)
Alexei Emelin (Montreal)
Lucas Sbisa (Vancouver)
Shea Theodore (Anaheim) via trade
Jason Garrison (Tampa Bay)
Jon Merrill (New Jersey)
As with the forward group, nobody here is a stand-out Norris Trophy winning defenseman. But all eight of these players are good and young, minus Garrison and Emelin who are going to be 31 when the season opens. I’m positive I also used each one of these skaters as a cheap DFS option last season on DraftKings while I was loading up on stud forwards. Under Head Coach Gerard Gallant, this Vegas team will be a tight checking team that will win or lose many games 2-1 and 3-2. There are also a few real nice defensemen out on the unrestricted free agent market on July 1, such as Kevin Shattenkirk and Karl Alzer. Merrill was a shutdown stud at the University of Michigan, Nate Schmidt has piled up plenty of quality minutes each of the past two seasons as the Washington Capitals' regular defensemen were dinged up for long spells like John Carlson was two seasons back and Brooks Orpik was this past season. Getting Shea Theodore in a trade from the Anaheim Ducks was such a brilliant move by GM George McPhee. Theo was just the odd man out in a corps of stud rearguards in SoCal and will become the Golden Knights' future number one defenseman.
Marc Andre-Fleury (Pittsburgh)
Calvin Pickard (Colorado)
With the three-time Stanley Cup netminder running the shop in Fleury, Vegas can really focus on playing tight defense around him, while knowing that rushing an extra defenseman into an offensive rush will not kill them all that often with Flower in the pipes. Calvin Pickard played very solid for a very bad team, and Colorado leaving him unprotected was the best thing that could have happened to him. In 50 games played this past season, Pick posted a 2.98 GAA (Goals Against Average), and a .904 Save Percentage for the league’s worst team. Learning from one of the better netminders over the past ten seasons will be a dream for Pick.
There were of course other players picked by Las Vegas, but these will be the legit fantasy options, along with the three first rounders Vegas will take tonight. I do not want to jinx the Red Wings though and have Vegas snatch either of the two I love for Detroit, Cody Glass and Tri-City Americans (Western Hockey League) 6’6” 220-pound center Michal Rasmussen.
Las Vegas will not win a playoff spot next season, but I’d bet my entire 401k that the Golden Knights will finish higher than Vancouver, Colorado and Arizona.
Let’s talk hockey @PolkaPat and be sure to read more of my thoughts at Fighting Chance Sports.
Last week I covered some of the potential top five picks in the NHL’s upcoming Entry Draft, which takes place in Chicago on June 23. The entire first round will be drafted on the evening of the 23rd, while the second through seventh rounds will all be drafted on June 24. There are plenty of players in this year’s draft that will have the staying power to succeed in the NHL for quite awhile, so let’s cover a few more of the first round gems.
Gabe Vilardi (C, Windsor Spitfires - Ontario Hockey League): Ranked number three by the International Scouting Service (ISS), Vilardi will be a top five pick come Friday, June 23. If Dallas keeps the third pick or swaps out remains to be seen, but Vilardi will be there for any team wanting to add a skilled center to their roster and organization. Vilardi led the Spitfires in scoring even after missing 19 games at the beginning of the season with a knee injury just before Ivan Hlinka’s U-18 tournament. That along with an emergency appendectomy in November, which cost him more time. Back and healthy, Vilardi is leading the Memorial Cup host Spitfires at the best time of the year, the CHL Memorial Cup. Skating is the area in which he needs the most improvement, but with the coaching these days and training regiments, Vilardi will cure that ill in his immediate game.
Cody Glass (C, Portland Winterhawks - Western Hockey League): Jumping from 27 points in his first season in Portland to 94 points in his second year brought Glass to the forefront, and getting cut from the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament was the fuel that fed Glass and his drive to prove his worth. Ranked #10 by The Hockey News and sixth overall by the ISS, Glass will be taken ahead of some other higher profile names come draft day. Often drawing comparisons to Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele, Glass is still not a finished product, which is scary based on how well he reacted to negative press. Cody scored 32 goals and 62 assists this past season and may be back in Portland for a third season, but I think the team that drafts him will either start him up for the eight-game try-out with the big club or move him to the AHL for seasoning with grown men instead of kids. That’s how well of a game IQ presence he has been reported to have from numerous NHL scouts.
Owen Tippett (RW, Mississauga Steelheads - Ontario Hockey League): Ranked number seven by THN, and fourth in the ISS ranking, Tippett will be a top six pick for sure come draft day. It amazes me how much training goes into these kids' future when at 18 they already are built like men. Tippett is 6’2” and 205 pounds right now and will probably add 10-15 pounds once he joins the NHL. Owen will also need to play better in the middle ice. Many scouts salivate at his play within 15 feet of each net, but the area in between needs improvement. Other scouts question his work ethic and hockey sense, but a good team will place a rookie with a responsible team leader to show him the way. Tippett’s shot is great, he possesses a scorer’s mentality and is drawing Kyle Okposo comparisons. Any team drafting him is praying that projection comes true in their top-ten pick.
Miro Heiskanen (D, HIFK - Finnish Elite League): Much like Cale Makar, Miro jumped up through the projection rankings based on a world stage. Heiskanen did his impressing at the World Juniors over the Christmas break. On a Finnish team that was almost bounced after winning it all the year prior, Heiskanen's performance was better than his Finnish teammate and last year's Canucks first-rounder Olli Juolevi. Drawing early comparisons to Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, Heiskanen impressed this season in the Finnish Elite League against men. With a pre-draft ranking of sixth in The Hockey News and fifth by the International Scouting Service, Miro will need time to season in the AHL or remain in the Finnish Elite League, as most young defensemen are not NHL ready heading into their first season.
A few more names to keep a close eye on include Russian Klim Kostin. He has dominated at each level he has played and is NHL body ready at 6’3” and 196 pounds. I hope Detroit drafts Kostin at #9. Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren was projected as the overall number two player before the season began. Due to a so-so season, he has dropped out of the top ten, but will be taken in the lottery regardless. One more name is Nick Suzuki, who put together a 94-point season for Owen Sound in the Ontario Hockey League.
You can always reach me @PolkaPat to talk hockey, and read more of my fantasy thoughts at Fighting Chance Sports.
Each year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a player comes out of nowhere and elevates his offensive totals, usually a third or fourth line player, much like former New Jersey Devil Jay Pandolfo did for the Devils in their 2003 Stanley Cup victory. That year, Pandolfo potted six goals and added six assists, whereas in his entire career, he never scored more than 14 goals in the complete regular season. New Jersey was a defensive juggernaut in the late 90’s and early years of the century, and a 12-point breakout from a career shut-down forward was awe inspiring for his Devils teammates.
Last year, I wrote about the Pittsburgh Penguins' Nick Bonino and his excellent play in the 2016 playoffs, and how that play made his line mates even harder to handle while taking pressure off superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel, who could have easily won the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP over net minder Matt Murray, benefited directly from Bonino’s caliber of play.
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel is most definitely in the Pandolfo Zone this postseason, and has fully benefited from skating with either Malkin or Crosby in these playoffs. Pittsburgh Penguins occupy the top four spots in the playoff scoring race, where Guentzel is third with 20 points, trailing Malkin (26) and Crosby (24). Jake’s 13 goals in 23 playoff games is the most in this year’s playoffs, after scoring 16 in 40 regular season games with 33 points.
The University of Nebraska-Omaha hockey product is scoring in every aspect of the game. He has more even strength goals with eleven than anyone else has total goals. With just one on the Pens lethal power-play, but one short-handed, and five game-winners, in laymen’s terms, he is everywhere and making a huge impact. His blistering shooting percentage is at 27.7% and leads all active players on just 47 shots, which is currently good for fifth in the NHL Playoffs. Everyone else in the top-30 is no longer in the playoffs, Nashville’s Ryan Johansen is 30th at 20%, but injury has claimed his playoff run, and he is no longer available to help the Predators break through the defending champions.
Along with feeling the Pandolfo Effect, Guentzel is doing exactly what teammate Conor Sheary did last year in his freshman campaign with the Penguins, but with much more success. The rookie upstart earned his keep in the playoffs and never looked back. Last season, Sheary played 44 regular season games with seven goals and ten points, but then thrust into the playoff mix, he scored the same regular season total of ten points in just 23 playoff games skating alongside Sidney Crosby. Who you skate with makes all the difference in the world.
While the cupboards are depleted on the defensive end of the Penguins ice, the forward unit keeps springing to life young offensive-minded players who are making a huge difference in the playoffs. Along with all of his offensive contributions, Jake is laying his body out each night with his physical play with 29 hits and 13 blocked shots, which has become the norm in the NHL playoffs, all this while averaging only 17.35 minutes of ice time.
Guentzel was never really a prolific scorer at any point of his developmental process, yet he is continually showing up in the crunch minutes for Pittsburgh, and I’m sure he has never skated with anyone in that same process that was half as skilled as Evgeni Malkin.
You can always reach me @PolkaPat to talk hockey or anything fantasy.
Ferris State in the house! Way to go Chris Kunitz! I still want Pittsburgh to lose for my own selfish reasons, being that the 1997-98 Red Wings are the last team to go back-to-back, and I want to keep it that way. So Nashville, think about it.
Now to the NHL Entry Draft, where on June 23rd some of the names the fantasy world will need to know in August and early September fantasy drafts will be announced. While this year’s draft will not have the generational talent of a Connor McDavid or last season’s top pick Austin Matthews, there is a long list of players that will be impactful when they reach the NHL level.
Nolan Patrick (C, Brandon Wheat Kings – WHL): Pretty much the consensus number one choice the entire past two seasons, after he scorched the CHL in the 2015-16 season with 41 goals, 61 assists, and 102 points. Patrick missed a good chunk of this past season due to sports hernia surgery and a completely unrelated abdominal injury. He has nothing left to prove, and New Jersey would be wise to add such a talent to a team that really lacked that scoring punch even after the Devils acquired Taylor Hall from Edmonton. New Jersey needs a guy who can jump right on the ice and contribute and Patrick gives them this option with his body already NHL size at 6’3” and a solid 200 pounds. Nolan will be drafted in all fantasy leagues, but don’t go skipping over quality NHL players that have already contributed in favor of Patrick just yet.
Nico Hischier (C, Halifax Mooseheads – QMJHL): Here is one player whose stock has been on the rise all season after coming to Halifax from Switzerland in the CHL Import Draft. Hischier punched his own ticket in the World Juniors where he almost single handedly dismantled the eventual champion United States squad. In 57 games in the Q for Halifax, Nico potted 38 goals and 48 helpers, and many NHL scouts claim that Hischier has the elite hockey IQ needed to mentally succeed in the big league. At an even six feet tall and only 174 pounds, Hischier will need to gain some muscle if Philadelphia does indeed draft him at the number two spot. I read in The Hockey News Draft Preview that Hischier’s best case scenario is Joe Pavelski. Philadelphia should take that to the bank should Nico not get snagged by the division rival Devils at one.
Casey Mittelstadt (C, Eden Prairie HS/ Green Bay, USHL): Another talented center in this year’s draft comes from the high school ranks up in Minnesota. Casey may be finishing up his senior season in high school, but at 6’1” and 201 pounds, he has a man’s body that should be ready for the rigors of an 82-game NHL schedule. Instead of jumping right into the NCAA at the University of Minnesota, Casey wanted one more crack at the coveted Minnesota State championship, then he jumped to the USHL after his high school lost in the quarterfinals, but ended the season with 64 points in 25 games. Once in Green Bay, he put up 13 goals and 30 points in 24 games and didn’t skip a beat. The third pick belongs to Dallas and the fourth to Colorado, and with Dallas in win now mode, they may trade out of the three hole, while Colorado needs all the help they can get. Mittelstadt may spend a season on the Avalanche AHL affiliate, as Colorado GM Joe Sakic wouldn’t rush him and hurt his development.
Cale Makar (D, Brooks – Junior A): At the beginning of the season, Makar wasn’t the top defenseman on the board. That honor belonged to Swedish Elite League defenseman Timothy Liljegren, who has fallen to 15 in the Hockey News pre-draft rankings. International Scouting Services has Liljegren listed at number eight overall still, but this is about Makar now. Should Cale get drafted where he is ranked, (#5, The Hockey News, and ISS at #11), Cale would become the highest drafted player out of the American Junior Hockey League since Joe Colborne in 2008. The team drafting this ultra-competitive defenseman will have to wait since he committed to play at UMass this fall. His smallish frame isn’t textbook NHL, but the current playing style in the NHL is speed, and Makar brings that and a dynamic scoring touch from the point. Makar led his Brooks Bandits defense with 24 goals and 75 points in just 54 games this past season, and he reminds me of former Windsor Spitfire defenseman Ryan Ellis, who is now playing in his first Stanley Cup final.
There are many more players to discuss as we get closer to the draft, and be sure to check in here weekly for more names you will need to know come our fantasy draft days.
You can reach me @PolkaPat anytime to talk pucks and read more of my work at Fighting Chance Sports.